I have had my breath taken away very few times in my life. But I can say with absolute certainty that the only words to describe this play come from the script itself: I can’t breathe.
Playwright Paula Vogel and director Rebecca Taichman’s “Indecent” is anything but. The whole walk back from the theatre, I was utterly speechless while ruminating on this beautiful and heartbreaking play. It felt like something coming full circle- on the train ride into the city, I was reading Diana McLellan’s “The Girls: Sappho Goes to Hollywood” and there was a passage about the rise of censorship in the theater.
One of the plays mentioned? Sholem Asch’s “The God of Vengeance.” It felt like a sign of some sort.
Indecent. A play about a play. A Jewish play that pushed boundaries and portrayed Jewish people as complex and flawed individuals; a Jewish play featuring a lesbian love story. A play about a Jewish play that is most importantly about censorship and passion and why art matters.
Indecent. A word used to condemn and shame.
As an artist and a lesbian, I never realized how much I think about censorship until I was walking out of the theater today. Yes, censorship from others, but more importantly censorship of self. When typing the paragraph above, I first wrote “a love story between two women.” For some reason, I always stumble over the word lesbian even though I am proud to be one. I for some reason find it easier to say “I’m gay” than it is to say “I’m a lesbian.” I know there is nothing indecent about it. Yet I choke on it.
I think about censorship every single day, and Paula Vogel’s wonderful play has made me realize that it is my greatest fear.
Since I got to my all-women’s liberal arts college, I’ve been steeping myself in Queer history and learned that it is a history of censorship. I can pinpoint watching “The Celluloid Closet” in my theatre as commentary class as the turning point that began my thirst for knowledge. I wanted to know why I still rarely see lesbians on TV, why I can barely find myself represented in movies, why we keep getting killed onscreen. And as I continued my reading, I found the place where I can actually relate to the stories being told: the theatre. My heart broke for Martha Dobie and I felt an immense surge of pride when I discovered Jane Wagner and I kissed a girl other than my best friend for the first time in a scene from Weldon Rising. I have long regarded the theatre as my home, but I discovered in a new capacity that it is the one place where I will always find myself. I can be a complex and flawed individual, not just the subject of a sleazy sex scene thrown in to entice male viewers. I can be flesh and blood.
There is a line from “Indecent” that I haven’t been able to get out of my head: when you write a play, you are not alone (or something to that effect). I won’t spoil the last scene, but this concept is hauntingly played out in the final moments of the play. I didn’t understand why I began to sob in that moment; all I knew was that I was experiencing a euphoric mix of joy and loss that is truly indescribable unless you have seen it too. But now, being rocked gently side to side by the sway of the train, I know why.
Nobody goes into the theatre to make money. We do it to express something when we have no other voice, we do it to find a community and a family; we do it because we believe in the story we are telling and the message that goes along with it. We do it because art matters.
I will never dance in the rain the same way again.
The show was originally supposed to close on June 25th, but due to an outpouring of support and ticket sales it was extended until August 6th. After the curtain call, one of the cast members joked that it was a little bit like the Chanukah story: the lamp kept burning.
Take advantage of it. Go see this show. I had resigned myself in mid June to not being able to see it, and I nearly wept when I saw the extension announcement. Support this play. Tell all your friends. If I had the money, I would see every remaining show.
I have no doubt that your experience will differ from mine; theatre is like that. But I guarantee you will find something in it that captivates you. Find the reason that art matters to you.